Review: STAGES – a video game musical, VAULT Festival

STAGES – a video game musical is a bold new musical pushing boundaries at the VAULT Festival

“How do you do this alone?”

Well the answer is you don’t, especially when the question is about new musicals. STAGES – a video game musical arrives at the VAULTs as the first production from ALP, a company founded to develop and nurture artist-driven new British musicals with full acknowledgment that this is a show still on its journey, more than a work-in-progress but not yet the final product either.

Written by Christian Czornyj (Catch Me), STAGES draws inspiration from gaming to explore worlds of drama within the confines of its domestic context. At the heart of it lies neuro-diverse 16-year-old Aiden who loves video games, not least because they allow him a measure of control that he doesn’t have IRL. And as his mum has just been diagnosed with cancer, that’s a power he really wishes he possessed. Continue reading “Review: STAGES – a video game musical, VAULT Festival”

10 questions for 10 years – Rebecca Caine

Canadian soprano and OG Cosette, Rebecca Caine takes on the Ten Questions for Ten Years challenge 

Rebecca Caine may have been in a couple of musicals you’ve heard of before, but my introduction to her was through Tête à Tête’s inspired take on Salad Days at the old Riverside Studios in Hammersmith, recollections of which below. She’s also one of the more entertaining people to follow on Twitter, just don’t mention anyone called Jonas… 

Salad Days! Such a lovely production. I used to love pulling people out to dance with, some would dance me off my feet, as a Don in the pre show, seating Cameron Mackintosh, calling him Mackintosh Minor and telling him to pull his socks up and watching the happiness of the audience at the end when they were just happy to be silly on a sunny day in 1954 Hyde Park.”

Continue reading “10 questions for 10 years – Rebecca Caine”

Album Review: Wit and Whimsy – Songs by Alexander S Bermange

“If only I were famous from the telly”

Across its two discs and twenty-three tracks, there’s an awful lot of whimsy to Alexander S Bermange’s latest compilation album Wit and Whimsy and not quite enough wit to sustain it. Bermange is a composer who has had as much success writing comic songs for radio as he has in straight-up musical theatre (the two shows of his that I’ve seen – The Route to Happiness and Thirteen Days were both part of festivals).

That said, he has an impressive contacts list as evidenced by the range of people who have joined in on the action here – Laura Pitt-Pulford, Tracie Bennett, David Bedella, Cassidy Janson, Emma Williams, even Christopher Biggins. And with a guest list of this quality, naturally there are moments that shine here. Continue reading “Album Review: Wit and Whimsy – Songs by Alexander S Bermange”

Review: Flowers for Mrs Harris, Crucible

“There is more to life than you ever knew, than you ever dreamed,”

Sheffield feels the right place for Flowers for Mrs Harris to come into bloom, its delicately understated charm and musicality making this a world away from the brash, cut-throat commercialism of West End musicals. That’s not to say I wouldn’t love to see this show come down to the capital, for it does deserve such wider attention, but rather to celebrate the creation and nurturing of musical theatre from all parts of the country, a recognition of a theatrical ecology that thrives far beyond the M25.

Daniel Evans’ artistic directorship of Sheffield Theatres, which ends with this production, has been a key part of that over the last few years and it is pleasing to see that his presence in the overall picture will continue as he departs for Chichester Festival Theatre. As for now, we get a gorgeous piece of unmistakably British musical theatre that is as heart-warming and tear-jerking as they come, a tenderly sentimental exploration of far-fetched dreams and earthily real friendships. Continue reading “Review: Flowers for Mrs Harris, Crucible”

Review: Forbidden Broadway, Menier Chocolate Factory

“You sing cliché
I’ll sing haiku”
 
There are, in the main, two types of people in the audience for Forbidden Broadway. There’s your devotees who preach evangelically about this Broadway legend and the previous times it has come to the UK, the ones who laugh in anticipation of the jokes that they probably know already, and then there’s the more regular folk who might find themselves just a little turned off by the smugness of a show that is essentially one big inside joke.
 
Gerard Alessandri’s original concept, augmented here with additional material from Phillip George, is indubitably a classic – making viciously biting fun of the biggest shows to hit (and miss) our stages such as OnceLes MisThe Book of Mormon etc and this iteration of the show has its West End-specific references too, The Pajama Game and Charlie and Chocolate Factory come in for a hammering here, there is indeed much to laugh at.

Continue reading “Review: Forbidden Broadway, Menier Chocolate Factory”

CD Review: Somewhere in the Audience

“You feel the urge, you think you can’t help it”

Eric Woolfson may be better known as the creator, songwriter and lyricist of The Alan Parsons Project but as a writer of musical theatre, in the great tradition of David Hasselhoff, he was big in Germany (and other parts of Europe and Asia). He passed away in 2009 but a compilation of music from four of his musicals – Gaudi, Gambler, Poe and Dancing Shadows – has been put together with the hope of resuscitating interest in his work either side of the Atlantic.

Somewhere in the Audience is a curious CD – on first listen, one is smacked over the head with the dated feel of the material. Not necessarily in a bad way but rather that the arrangements are so definitively of their time (the late 80s and 90s) that they distract from everything else. Take a number like ‘Too Late’ – sung with charisma and verve by Tim Howar, Louise Dearman and James Fox, it has a magnificently stirring drive to its structure but given the arrangement it gets here, it calls to mind a Central European power pop number with a jerky shoulder dance routine.  Continue reading “CD Review: Somewhere in the Audience”

Review: Company, Sheffield Crucible

“You ever wish you didn’t get married?”

This trip up to Sheffield to see Company at the Crucible was my last booking for the year (though it ain’t over til the 31st…). Though it seemed like a bit of a faff, involving non-essential travel the day before I’m going to my parents for Christmas and coming at the end of a long, long year, there was never any doubt in my mind that I would be making the effort once the supporting cast around Daniel Evans had been announced. It really is luxury casting from top to toe – Samantha Spiro, Francesca Annis, Ian Gelder, Claire Price amongst others – and though I have recently suffered something of a Sondheim burnout, I got on the train with excitement.

And how glad I am that I made the effort. There have been times over the last twelve months when my enthusiasm for theatre has waned a little, but it is productions that give me goosebumps and bring tears to my eyes that remind me why I love this medium so, and this show gave me both sensations in plentiful measure. Jonathan Munby’s production puts Artistic Director Daniel Evans in the centre of the show as Bobby, the man in the midst of a middle-life, marriage-centric crisis as all his couples friends gather round at his apartment to celebrate his 35th birthday. We then see vignettes from each of their lives, showing that married life isn’t perhaps all it cracks up to be which leaves the directionless Bobby and his coterie of female admirers more confused than ever about what he wants and what he thinks he wants. Continue reading “Review: Company, Sheffield Crucible”

Music Review: Michael Bruce – Unwritten Songs

“I want this world, I want every moment” 

Musical theatre writing in the UK has no greater champion than the Speckulation guys at the moment and one of the beneficiaries of their nurturing, Michael Bruce, has really taken flight this year with a star-studded debut album being released to showcase his song-writing. Bruce is a composer who has previously had his own West End showcase, musicals playing at Edinburgh, is resident composer at the Bush Theatre and has written the score for shows like the National Theatre’s Men Should Weep and the forthcoming David Tennant/Catherine Tate Much Ado About Nothing. He launched this album last month with a Delfont Room gig showing off his pulling power in getting many of the stars of his album to come and perform on a busy Sunday night.

On Unwritten Songs, Bruce covers a range of bases whilst remaining firmly in the musical theatre/cabaret world. He has a clear talent for comedy songs which are destined to appear and reappear in cabaret repertoires for the foreseeable future. Chief of these is the fabulous Portrait of a Princess, written especially for the incomparable Julie Atherton. Formerly entitled In A Disney Way, it is an extremely wordy, wry and witty look at the unreasonable expectations put on a modern-day Disney princess and if that weren’t enough, Speckulation have come up with their first ever promotional video for this song featuring a whole host of faces including Russell Tovey, Sheridan Smith and Jon Lee which you can watch below. Continue reading “Music Review: Michael Bruce – Unwritten Songs”

Review: Michael Bruce – Unwritten Songs album launch, Delfont Room

“Musical theatre’s my passion, my art”

In the Delfont Room at the Prince of Wales Theatre, there is often a Sunday night treat to be found and this week saw the launch of Unwritten Songs, the debut album by Michael Bruce featuring a whole host of West End stars, many of whom were in attendance to perform the songs they sing on the album, including Julie Atherton, Alexia Khadime, Anna-Jane Casey and Mark Evans and some other special guests too, including Caroline Sheen. Bruce is a composer who has had his own West End showcase, musicals playing at Edinburgh, is resident composer at the Bush Theatre and has written the score for shows like the National Theatre’s Men Should Weep and the forthcoming David Tennant/Catherine Tate Much Ado About Nothing, so it is safe to say this is a man who is going places.

His songwriting covers many bases, but he is particularly strong at the comedic songs and his repertoire is already full of choice gifts for the more daring cabaret performer: ‘Portrait of a Princess’ (formerly titled ‘In A Disney Way’) was written especially for Julie Atherton and plays perfectly to her inimitable strength at witty story-songs, if for some crazy reason you only buy one song off this album, this would be the one. But there’s also the faux-operatic ‘Continental’ delivered with a great wry humour by Emily Tierney and the newly written ‘The Musical Theatre Song’ which borrows the rapid-fire structure of Sondheim’s ‘(Not) Getting Married Today’ as a musical theatre fan breathlessly lists all the shows she loves, delivered almost without fault by Anna-Jane Casey. Bruce clearly enjoys challenging his singers and when they are of this calibre, then why the hell not. Continue reading “Review: Michael Bruce – Unwritten Songs album launch, Delfont Room”

2011 What’s On Stage Award nominations

THE SPOTLIGHT BEST ACTRESS IN A PLAY
Zoe Wanamaker – All My Sons at the Apollo 
Helen McCrory – The Late Middle Classes at the Donmar Warehouse 
Jenny Jules – Ruined at the Almeida
Kim Cattrall – Private Lives at the Vaudeville 
Nancy Carroll – After the Dance at the National, Lyttelton 
Tracie Bennett – End of the Rainbow at Trafalgar Studios 

THE SPOTLIGHT BEST ACTOR IN A PLAY
David Suchet – All My Sons at the Apollo 
Benedict Cumberbatch – After the Dance at the National, Lyttelton 
Matthew Macfadyen – Private Lives at the Vaudeville 
Rory Kinnear – Hamlet at the National, Olivier & Measure for Measure at the Almeida
Simon Russell Beale – Deathtrap at the Noel Coward & London Assurance at the National, Olivier 
Toby Stephens – The Real Thing at the Old Vic  Continue reading “2011 What’s On Stage Award nominations”